Tuesday, September 17, 2013

TOP STORY >> Sergeant ready for worst

Leader staff writer

Just days before the 12th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Master Sgt. William Catton of Lonoke led a mass-casualty exercise at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan.

“When we plan exercises, stuff that could happen, the anniversary stuff may happen on, that’s all part of the planning process,” Catton said.

On Sept. 11, 2001, the sergeant was in the service but on leave in Illinois.

“My first thought was we’re going to war,” he said.

Catton added that 80 or 90 servicemen on the base in Afghanistan attended a ceremony last week to remember the heroes who rose up on that dark day.

Brig. Gen. Patrick C. Malackowski, commander of 455th Air Expeditionary Wing, presided over the event.

Catton, as the 455th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron installation emergency manager, coordinated the Sept. 7 exercise in Afghanistan less than a week before the anniversary. The installation and Craig Joint Theater Hospital coordinated the exercise.

Catton explained that it was designed to simulate any emergency — from a terrorist attack to a devastating multiple-vehicle collision — that would leave several victims in its wake.

Airmen, firefighters, local hospital personnel, an ambulance team, security forces and others were given 30 faux victims to take care of.

Catton said, “They had to triage the victims, decide whether they went to the local hospital or clinic. The worst wounded go first, the least wounded go last.”

The exercise prepared the base for a real-world event, honing and sharpening the individual skills of each entity, he continued.

The purpose of the four-hour simulation was to evaluate patient care, evaluate the processing of patients and evaluate the validation of support and command control entities.

“It tested all those agencies to make sure we could do the mission if something were to happen,” Catton said.

The participants spent two months prepping for the exercise, Catton added. The sergeant’s job was to make sure they were where they were supposed to be.

“(The exercise) went very well. We did all the objectives we had,” he said. “You always learn lessons when you do any kind of exercise. We always learn how to better our communication processes.”

Catton noted that communication could be more streamlined in the future.

According to a news release, “Regular (mass-casualty) exercises at Bagram train service members and keep them prepared to handle unexpected incidents and other potential disasters, and furthermore enables them to take those skills to their home units.”

The sergeant is an 18-year military veteran and served 10 of those years in the Air Force.

He has been deployed for two months from the 189th Airlift Wing of the Arkansas Air National Guard at Little Rock Air Force Base in Jacksonville, but could return home in January.

About deployment, Catton said, “It’s very busy. This place never shuts down. It makes the time go by real fast. Never a dull moment.”

He continued, “The most challenging (part) is being away from family.”

Catton has been married for 14 years. The couple has two children, a 12-year-old and a 13-year-old.

He said, “I’d love to say that I miss them, I love them and I’ll see them soon.”

Catton added that they are doing “pretty good” at handling the deployment.

“Unfortunately my wife is an old hat at this,” he explained.

The sergeant first enlisted when he was 17.

“It’s pretty much all I’ve ever known. I’m a career service man. I’m in until they kick me out,” Catton said. “I love what I do. It boils down to I love serving my country and helping people.”